Published on July 13th, 2011 | by Greg0
Magellan: A World-Proof GPS
One of the things we love most about the outdoors is the sense of adventure. You're in the wilderness, camping or hiking or mountain climbing, and there's almost no one else around. You might or might not have maps, but one thing you can't rely on is your smartphone. It's a bit frightening really- we've become so dependent on them and their easy mapping functions and directions that it can be hard to kick the habit. But bringing your iPhone or Android with you on a trip is often futile- there are so many ways to drop it too far or submerge it in water or get it rained on.
That's why Magellan created the eXplorist 710, a waterproof hiking GPS. We got a chance to play with the 310, their lower-end model that looks and feels similar. But the 710 is their flagship and top-of-the-line, and it's the most durable GPS we've tried. We dropped it, and did in fact put it into a small pool, with no ill effects except for a small scratch. The touchscreen is an odd choice- it felt a little laggy and a little out-of-place at first. Eventually, though, we realized that it was probably more convenient than yet more buttons (which have their own problems with sealing against extreme conditions). Touchscreens are also harder to use with gloves and when wet, but this one was better than many.
Granted, most users might not need all of the features offered on the 710, but several other models are available. Compared to the 610, the 710 adds handy city maps pre-loaded- useful depending on your use case and needs. And over the 510, it adds a pretty important compass and altimeter, items that might not be needed for suburban or familiar camping but are definitely essential for trips further afield. And some other siblings lose a few other things- like the 3.2 megapixel camera, which was a nice addition… on paper. In practice, it's a bit finicky, and the pictures are not particularly good, requiring even lighting and a good steady hand to turn out well. There's no flash and only digital zoom, but if you aren't carrying another camera, it will do. We thought the geotagging ability might make up for the downsides, but transferring them was enough of a problem to make it not-so-worthwhile. Sure, it can connect via the included USB cable, but is a bit awkward. Videos and audio capture are also fun to play with, but you won't be making any home movies with the 710- video quality drops to a fairly low resolution and slow framerate.
Our first tests were walking in an urban environment and driving, neither of which are optimal use cases. Compared with some others, this one takes longer to figure out your location, and definitely is not as precise as your smartphone can be. And we found the battery life to be roughly comparable- they claim 16 hours, but we only got 8 or so normally from the two AA batteries. Turn by turn navigation will eat this a bit, and we needed the backlight active for daytime use, but it last a full day for most and excellent batteries are included. And plenty of storage is included- users have access to 3GB of the 8GB memory and there is support for MicroSD cards of over 32GB.
The 710 is a bit heavy, but totally durable. There's a nice loop for attaching to a bag or lanyard. And the topographical maps are second-to-none. But our main complaints were mostly a result of the sometimes awkward interface, where it can take several clicks to get through the menus. In general, it wasn't super-responsive, ranging from sluggish when booting (a few seconds) to painful (when calculating routes). And though we aren't huge into geocaching, we did note that the device comes with a 30-day premium membership to geocaching.com, and is well-liked among those who might desire a paperless solution. At $500 available online, this isn't an impulse buy, and there are plenty of other GPS devices that are cheaper, faster, lighter, smaller, or better suited for automobile use or city strolling. But the Magellan eXplorist 710 is probably the best out there for serious outdoor use.